The agenda for the April 4th Cambridge City Council meeting is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. It’s a longish agenda because we held a roundtable with the School Committee last week, so it’s essentially two weeks worth of work.
Here are my thoughts on items of particular interest. The order they are listed follows that of the agenda:
Calendar (items carried over from prior meeting):
#1 Municipal lobbyist disclosure: This is an order I sponsored to consider how best to institute a requirement for paid lobbyists to register and disclose their activities with municipal officials. Such regulations are being considered in Boston and at the state level and are an emerging best practice for toward increasing government transparency and fostering public trust. I don’t know why Councillor Kelley charter-righted it at our last meeting before there was any discussion.
Applications & Petitions:
#2 Riverside down-zoning petition: Residents of the Riverside area have petitioned that all properties currently zoned Residence C-1 be down-zoned to Residence C (both are multi-family districts). This change would reduce the FAR (floor are ratio, a measure of density) from .75 to .60 and would require a bit more open space on lots. For comparison, most of the residential streets in Mid-Cambridge, Central Sq and East Cambridge are zoned Res C-1, whereas most of Cambridgeport is zoned Res C. It will be interesting to hear how our CDD and Planning Board respond to this request in light of the recently launched Envision Cambridge citywide planning process.
City Manager Agenda:
#5 Publicizing the renaming of The Port (formerly Area 4): The manager is appropriating $30K for year-long campaign to publicize, celebrate and document the neighborhood’s name change, which residents voted on last year. The money will go toward events, a logo, and a new mural. It sounds like a good investment to build community and bolster neighborhood pride.
#6 Should garages dominate residential street fronts?: This is an urban design question raised by the Cohen Petition, which seeks to prevent a development with a prominent street-front garage on Donnell Street. In this report the city solicitor opines that the Cohen Petition is not reverse spot zoning, and so there would be no legal impediment to our passing it. However the Planning Board recommended the any restrictions on where garages are sited should be part of a broader study that might reasonably encompass all Residential B properties, not only the small subset described in the Cohen Petition. I agree that garage doors should not be the most prominent street-facing feature of houses, and would support expanding the petition’s scope to cover new development in all of Res B. By coincidence Monday’s agenda also includes an application for a curb cut for the redevelopment of the former funeral home at 175 Huron Ave — a long-contested rehab that will have a garage in the front setback. This property is in Res B and the redesign went before the BZA several times before it finally secured the required variances and special permits. The result is not ideal from an urban design standpoint, but arguably it’s an improvement over the flagrantly non-conforming building that is there now. Still, I don’t want to see this set a precedent for more prominent garages like this.
#8 Traffic enforcement to be stepped up: The manager is putting $21K toward “high-visibility” traffic enforcement. I’ll be interested to hear which streets this enforcement will focus on, and how many hours of enforcement $21K will buy us. I’m glad distracted driving is on the list of enforcement priorities. The police department recently tweeted a warning that they will be aggressively ticketing drivers who are texting.
#9 After-dinner drinks to be legal in beer and wine establishments: Apparently the city forgot to formally vote to approve this when the state law changed back in 1994! Fans of Frangelica will be pleased.
Policy Orders (grouped by topic in order they appear on the agenda, not by importance):
Taking a stand against discrimination (#1 & #18): Order #1 expresses support for an initiative to potentially change the racist symbolism in the Massachusetts state seal and flag. Order #18 would ban city-funded travel to North Carolina, so long as NC continues to deny equal protection to LGBTQ persons.
Traffic calming requests (#2, #4, #19, #21): There are 4 different requests for interventions to calm traffic at various intersections (take note if you live near Cameron & Mass Ave, Bristol & Webster St, Lincoln & Windsor St, Charles & Second St). Can we include the entire city in one blanket policy order? Seriously, we just committed to Vision Zero and Complete Streets policies; residents from every corner of the city feel that cars drive too fast through their neighborhoods. I’d like to see us get permission from the state to reduce our speed limit from 30 mph to 20 or 25 mph on residential streets.
Air quality & wood-fired ovens (#5): This order, which I co-sponsored, seeks a moratorium on new restaurants using wood-fired oven pending possible changes to the city’s air pollution regulations. It was prompted by an unfortunate situation on Shepard St following the opening last summer of the Shepard restaurant, which uses a wood-fired oven. Residents in the surrounding neighborhood measured very high levels of particulates in the smoke coming from the restaurant’s exhaust vents, and complained that their indoor air quality was unhealthy even with their windows closed. Some couldn’t comfortably use their balconies and yards because of the noxious smoke fumes. After months of negotiation the Shepard restaurant voluntarily agreed that it will install some costly wet-scrubbers on its ventilation system by this spring. This equipment was not required under the current health and sanitation code, however — hence this order to review and strengthen the code so we don’t have a similar situation again.
Parking questions (#6 & #12): Expanded bike parking has become a priority, but creating parking especially for motorized two-wheeled vehicles hasn’t received as much attention — and sometimes scooters and even motorcycles are parked on busy sidewalks where they can impede pedestrians. Order #6 asks to create dedicated parking areas for motor scooters and motorcycles in dense commercial zones. Order #12 asks for a report on the total number of parking spaces and registered cars in the city. I’d like to see this data mapped on the city’s Open Data Portal.
Trees need TLC! (#7 & #8): I co-sponsored these two tree-related orders. Order #7 offers our support for the restoration of near-extinct American Chestnut species. Order #8 asks the city to find ways to enlist more residents in the care of street trees, especially by watering and tending to the tree wells. These modest orders are intended to keep trees in the conversation, pending further review of how we can work together to strengthen our policies and procedures.
Food trucks at Danehy Park? (#11): This order asks the city to consider permitting a weekly food truck program at Danehy Park. Currently the ordinance prohibits any commercial activity in public parks without the permission of the DPW Commissioner, and such activity has been limited to the sale of food and beverages at city-sponsored events like Danehy Park Day. The order suggests permitting a particular food truck festival program (StrEATS), which operates in Central Sq, Somerville and Boston and a number of other cities. There’s no doubt that food activates public spaces, and that many residents would welcome the opportunity to buy food in the park. I hope that food waste won’t create a nuisance and that at least one of the trucks invited would offer healthy items like fresh fruit, yogurt and salads. (For instance why isn’t Clover listed among the StrEATS food trucks?) I’m not wild about serving high-fat, high-sugar items like frozen hoagies, M&M ribs, Belgian waffles, and sodas in a setting designed to promote health and fitness.
Addressing the opioid crisis (#13 & #15): These orders ask that our police officers be equipped with Narcan and that our police department join the highly touted Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), which originated in Gloucester and has been adopted by Somerville and Watertown among others. I co-sponsored the PAARI order and am pleased that PAARI’s co-founder John Rosenthal (also a founder of Stop Handgun Violence) will be honored by the Cambridge Health Alliance Foundation on April 14 (see event details).
Plans for a dog park in North Cambridge (#14): There is considerable public support and demonstrated need for creating a secure shared-use dog area in the park behind the Rindge Ave Upper School (near the tennis courts). This order asks that an area currently frequented by dog owners be fenced, pending more permanent arrangements.
Re-considering C2’s non-zoning recommendations for Central Sq (#16): A few years ago the “C2” planning study recommended a number of non-zoning changes to preserve local independent retail and to maintain and improve the physical character of Central Sq. (C2’s proposed re-zoning was never approved because of objections to increased density and height.) This order suggests moving forward with the study’s less controversial recommendations. I don’t understand well enough exactly what’s included in these non-zoning changes. No doubt, others will have questions, too.
Local control over setting the minimum wage (#17): Under current state law, cities cannot raise the minimum wage without going through the costly and time-consuming home rule petition process, with no assurance it would pass a vote in the legislature. This order supports a Senate bill that would allow cities to set their own minimum hourly wage. Cambridge already requires that city and its contractors pay a “living wage” of $15.04/hour. This would enable us to require other employers to raise their minimum wage over the state’s current $10/hr.
Updates on the city manager search process (#1 & #3): Hiring a new city manager and negotiating his/her contract is the Council’s most important responsibility. Two committee hearings have been held and a third public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 6 at 10:00 am at City Hall. At the next hearing we will continue the discussion of how to engage a search firm, their scope of services, and the timeline for the search. We will also hear from the city solicitor on whether all nine councillors can be involved in the preliminary, non-public (confidential) screening of the applicants; the Open Meeting Law restricts to four the number of councillors that can deliberate outside of a public hearing.
Medical marijuana dispensary zoning close to approval (#2): The Ordinance Committee recommended that a medical marijuana zoning district be created on Mass Ave between Dana and Ellery Streets. This would allow applicant Sage Cannabis to open a retail dispensary in a basement space at 1001 Mass Ave. The dispensary would have no signage and strong security measures, and poses no special threat to the surrounding neighborhood by virtue of providing legal medical marijuana products to state-approved registered patients. I fully support this and look forward to voting in favor of the re-zoning at a future meeting.
Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:
Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for 3 minutes on any agenda item except for communications from other members of the public. You may call 617-349-4280 on Monday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign in when you arrive (before 6:00 pm). If you submit written public comments, please email email@example.com and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next regular Council meeting.
City Council meetings are televised on CCTV Channel 22 and live streamed on the City Council’s website. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the city’s Open Meeting Portal.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA